Dallas family's home burns as 911 calls fail - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Dallas family's home burns as 911 calls fail

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An Oak Cliff family is wondering if their home could have been saved from a raging fire overnight if Dallas firefighters had responded more quickly.

The Fuller family and their neighbors say repeated 911 calls that didn't go through and a visit to an apparently empty fire station around the corner wasted precious minutes.


Dora Fuller lives with her husband and two adult sons, one of whom has special needs, in the one-story house in the 1900 block of Berwick Ave.

Just before 12:30 a.m., someone inside the home smelled smoke, heard the smoke detector go off, and realized there was a fire. Everyone got out safely, but no one could get through to 911 on their cell phone.

A neighbor tried to call on her phone and could not reach anyone, either. She says she even pushed the "emergency" button on her home alarm system, which is connected to a land line, and never heard a call back from her alarm company.

In the meantime, more neighbors ran to Dallas Fire House No. 23, which is less than a block away from the burning home. They say they rang the doorbell, but no one answered, and the minutes ticked by.

"My sister-in-law ran over there, she was over there by herself at least a minute and a half, two minutes by herself," said Raymundo Deleon. "I had to run over there, we were knocking at least another two minutes -- that's four minutes."

Deleon says it was his sister-in-law who finally reached 911 operators on her phone, at 12:42 a.m. Neighbors on Berwick Avenue said they had been trying to rouse emergency crews for at least 15 minutes, and tried to fight the flames themselves in the meantime.

Once the fire crews did arrive, they were unable to enter the house because of the heavy flames. They took a defensive attack outside the home, and prevented the flames from spreading to the other homes nearby.

The Fuller's home is destroyed. They told FOX 4 it has been in the family for 40 years. All Dora Fuller could salvage was a stained photo album.

Dallas city councilman Dwaine Caraway visited the family Wednesday afternoon.

"Here's a house, totally destroyed," said Caraway. "Had the system worked, maybe just the back of the house and not the complete house would have been destroyed."

Caraway says he feels the fire department was not at fault, because firefighters responded as soon as they got word. He says there is an investigation underway into the 911 system, which is run by the Dallas Police Department.

UPDATE: Sgt. Warren Mitchell released this information about the 911 system late Wednesday afternoon:

On July 4, 2012 at about 12:36 a. m., a house fire occurred in the 1900 block of Berwick in Dallas. Between 12:30 a.m. and 12:45 a.m. a total of 177 calls came into the 911 center.

When a spike in calls for service occurs, there is a recording that answers the line when all operators are busy. The recording advises the caller not to hang up and to wait for the next available operator. The capacity of the recording line is thirteen callers in excess of the number of 911 call takers.

In this case, if all thirteen 911 callers were busy, an additional thirteen callers, for a total of twenty-six, could be connected either to an operator or on hold. At one point during the fifteen minute period between 12:30 am and 12:45 a.m. there were forty-four calls holding.

A call by call review revealed that a 911 call first came in from the area of the fire at 12:36:09 a.m. The caller hung up prior to reaching a 911 operator. When this occurs, the 911 operator will call back the individual that dialed 911. When the 911 operator did this, they reached the caller's voice mail. Six additional 911 hang-up calls came in from the area during the next three minutes, several within seconds of each other. During this time, 911 operators attempted to call back two additional times and each time were connected to voicemail.

At 12:39:27 a.m., a caller dialed 911 and hung up prior to reaching an operator; the operator called back two seconds later at 12:39:29 a.m. and reached a caller who then reported the fire on Berwick.

The call was transferred to Dallas Fire Rescue immediately. Unfortunately, this caller was unable to provide an exact location for the fire. An additional 911 call came in and was transferred to DFR. This caller was able to provide an accurate location and DFR assigned their first unit to respond to the location at 12:42:21 a.m. This unit arrived at the location of the fire two minutes, forty-two seconds later at 12:45:03 a.m.

Dallas Fire Rescues' goal is to arrive at a fire within five minutes, thirty seconds of receipt of a 911 call. In this case, 911 first became aware of the fire at 12:39:29 a.m. and DFR arrived at the fire at 12:45:03 a.m., five minutes and thirty-four seconds later.

It appears that the spike in calls during this time frame contributed to the caller(s) being unable to immediately reach a 911 call taker. The police department had already anticipated that call load could spike due to the holiday and had increased the number of 911 call takers from nine to thirteen by holding over several call takers from the previous shift.

This number is consistent with the amount of call takers on-duty at this time last July 4th.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by DFR.


City of Dallas Spokesman Frank Librio also released a statement late Wednesday afternoon:

The City is looking into reports regarding 911 and a fire that occurred overnight on Berwick Avenue. Preliminary reports on the technology side of 911 indicate no evidence and no report of any technical problems.

Details are as follows.

There were no reports of any technology issues received last night.

CIS has verified the functionality and stability of the systems that support the 911 system
Support personnel checked all technologies that support the 9-1-1 call center early this morning. Everything checked out as normal; no alarms were noted from last night or early this morning.

CIS contacted AT&T 9-1-1 Network Center regarding their performance. All Dallas 9-1-1 trunks checked out with no errors, alerts, or alarms last night, this morning, or in the recent past
The phone switch technology has been extensively updated in the last 12 months and is current.

These are preliminary findings and the City will impart any new information as it is received.

Stay with FOX 4 News and myfoxdfw.com for further updates on this story as they become available.

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